The Rangers have the 2nd overall pick on Friday, and we all know what’s going to happen there. We’ve also got the 20th pick in the first round though, acquired from Winnipeg in the Kevin Hayes trade, as well two second rounders, a pick in each of the following rounds, and one pick each round in the 2020 draft (far away, I know). Recently there’s been some scuttlebutt about trading a whole host of assets for Jacob Trouba and presumably an extension, but there’s something else the Rangers could do if they want to pull off a blockbuster: trade up at the draft, and by that I mean way, way up.
This draft is generally recognized to be a top-heavy draft, as opposed to next year’s more deep one. It’s pretty good still if you break into the top-10 though, and that’s what I’m proposing here. The Rangers are hypothetically going to make Artemi Panarin an offer he can’t refuse, but if they don’t they’ve got a bit of a goalscoring problem on their hands. If they do it’s always nice to have more. So why not, instead of liquidating a ton of pieces for Jacob Trouba, do something a bit more forward-thinking and jump at the chance to move up if the right player drops. Who are those players though? Well there’s a few that I’d say would be worth it.
The first guy I’d suggest, rather than go for a present-day top-pairing guy, is look towards the future of the Rangers 1D situation. That’d mean Bowen Byram, should he fall past the third slot and especially if he falls beyond the top-5. He’s probably the best offensive defenseman in this draft, and plays with an edge on the backend as well. He’s got exceptional skating ability and passing acumen, and he’d be the guy we could lean on for major minutes for years to come. He’d be very close to the NHL next year and potentially even an option further down the depth chart to start, and he’d be well-worth it in a trading-up scenario.
Another prime candidate for a massive jump up the table would be Cole Caufield. Probably the best pure-shot goalscorer in the draft, he’s Alex DeBrincat to Jack Hughes’s Connor McDavid. His silky hands and ability to find the open areas of the ice by slipping around defending opponents before they even notice would fill out the top-6 beyond just Kravtsov, Kakko, and Panarin (just! as if those three aren’t enough) and allow the Rangers to bump a guy like Pavel Buchnevich down to the third line and really cause a matchup problem for adversaries. That kind of top-to-bottom scoring depth would be nasty in the playoffs, and help the Rangers make deep runs continuously over the course of the years to come.
Lastly, provided he drops, even just a little bit, comes Trevor Zegras. Another USNTDP guy, alongside Hughes and Caufield, Zegras is an excellent playmaker who knows how to compliment skill wingers. That’d be a real advantage for the Rangers to have over opponents, because it’d allow the Blueshirts to pick up cheap free agent wingers each offseason a la Michael Grabner or Benoit Pouliot, plug and play, then trade them at the deadline and restock year after year as those guys build a profile and await their larger, future buyout candidate contract. He’s a center too, so if this were the case the Rangers could flip one of Lias Andersson or Brett Howden along with other trade chips in order to upgrade without much fuss. It’d be an nice bit of work and would help the team out long-term, because Zegras behind Zibanejad and ahead of whichever one of Lias or Howdy doesn’t get moved would be an excellent series of pivots.
All of this is a little pipe-dreamy, but it’s not entirely without precedent. Weirder things have happened – Filip Zadina was projected by almost every analyst that matters to go third last draft and somehow fell precipitously, and although such an occurrence would inevitably cause a bidding war for teams looking to grab one of these guys, a little shakeup on the draft board can have a residual effect and shift around the order enough that someone else might be a steal. These would be my targets, but the sky is the limit when things get weird. Whatever winds up happening on draft day, despite the other pieces that would need to be sent the other way, moving the 20th overall pick to trade up for the right player wouldn’t be such a bad idea.